Pennsylvania expands forest burning program

    Pennsylvania’s Game Commission and the Nature Conservancy are teaming up to set fires in state forest land. It’s all in the name of habitat health.

    Pennsylvania’s Game Commission and the Nature Conservancy are teaming up to set fires in state forest land. It’s all in the name of habitat health.

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    The Game Commission is broadening its prescribed burning program with the help of the Nature Conservancy. The program torches forest areas that thrive with occasional fires, such as oak, hickory, and pitch pine forests.

    Pat McElhenny is the Pennsylvania Fire Manager for the Nature Conservancy. He says some forest types thrive after a burn, and suppressing fire will actually threaten their health.

    McElhenny: Some of the places have not seen fire in 50 plus years…For a fire dependent system or species that are fire dependent it will allow them to get a better toe-hold in that system.

    Slideshow:

    View a slideshow of prescribed burning on the Nature Conservany’s siteMcElhenny expects that the partnership will lead to more burns this year.

    McElhenny:
    We always hope so. But it’s so weather dependent. Two years ago we planned for 400 acres and we did like a 125…Now, working with the Game Commission allows we have more opportunities to burn now because of having different kinds of fuels to be able to burn.

    McElhenny says fires are often suppressed, but the hazard is extra plant growth that can lead to uncontrollable wild fires. Suppression also allows plants that don’t belong in a fire-dependent forest to creep in and take over.

    This year his group will focus on northeast, central and southwestern Pennsylvania. The state is spending $600,000 on the project over two years.

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